Anti-abortion display invokes student response

On April 16, 2013

  • Up to 150 students at a time protested the anti-abortion display in front of the Student Union Tuesday. Students held up sheets to block graphic images of abortions. Brian Keschinger, The Spectrum
  • UB Students for Life President Christian Andzel (center) passionately debates students Tuesday in front of the anti-abortion display. Alexa Strudler, The Spectrum
  • Community members hoist opposing signs in front of the display. Alexa Strudler, The Spectrum
  • A student who supports abortion rights blocks a community member's anti-abortion sign as the two exchange words. Alexa Strudler, The Spectrum
  • A student holds a sign reading. If the fetus you 'save' is gay, are you still going to fight to save it?
  • An abortion rights supporter holds a sign reading. Fun fact

Graphic images of aborted fetuses towered beside the Student Union entrance on Monday and Tuesday.

Between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day, billboards showed dismembered fetus limbs and comparisons of abortions to genocide, child abuse and hate crimes - images Christian Andzel, the president of UB Students for Life, knows may make people uncomfortable. But he feels "it's time to resonate the word abortion with pictures." The images met a strong student force, and on Tuesday, opposition mounted as up to 150 students gathered outside of the Union.

Andzel contacted the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform's "Genocide Awareness Project." The group travels around the country to multiple universities with its anti-abortion display.

Darius Hardwick, the regional director for the Center of Bio-Ethical Reform, said he knows the display he brought to UB can get people "worked up," but he thinks it's important to discuss "what abortion is."

 UB Students for Life does receive a budget from SA, but none of that money went toward this event. It did not cost the SA club any money for the Center to come to campus.

On Monday, Laura Curry, an adjunct professor in the media study department, was arrested after vocalizing her opposition to the display and using the word "f**k." Curry was charged with disorderly conduct and the police report states Curry was released with an appearance ticket.

Many students are upset with Curry's arrest, and a cellphone-captured video of her confrontation with the University Police Department has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook.

"I'm not being disorderly, that is disorderly," Curry told UPD while gesturing to the display, according to the video. She continued by saying she felt the large images were profane, and they were "swearing" to her.

"What is the difference between that image and me saying f**k?" Curry went on to ask the officers.

UPD declined to comment for this article.

Andzel said he doesn't think the incident with Curry called for an arrest, but it was UPD's matter and he and his associates had no involvement.

"Our police are not doing a good job [in the terms of Curry's arrest]. They are doing the best job they can, but they aren't doing the best job possible," said Phil Tucciarone, a junior chemical engineering major. "That's because of a lot of confusion from the ground to the ceiling in terms of authority. I can't blame them, but they are struggling like we are."

Tucciarone was frustrated with the arrest but expressed gratitude for the work UPD did in keeping the students safe.

UPD was present throughout the entire protest.

Tucciarone helped organize a counter-protest on Tuesday alongside Chelsie Hinckley, a senior English major. Both created Facebook groups to bring students who opposed the anti-abortion display together.

Tucciarone said UPD told him to make sure he and his protestors didn't curse violently, get aggressive in speech through yelling or instigate physical contact, in order to avoid arrest.

Tucciarone and Hinckley were adamant about keeping the protest peaceful on Tuesday. But the amount of passion and aggression that collected outside of the Union on Monday and Tuesday penetrated throughout the entire campus and on social media.

While students did collect in opposition on Monday afternoon, a counter-protest wasn't formally organized until Monday evening in Capen Hall. Andzel "snuck in" to the meeting with a hat on, Tucciarone said.

The billboards "connecting the dots" of genocide to abortions were on display on Monday but not Tuesday. Frank Diorio, a volunteer with the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, said the group normally displays all 16 of its posters at once but couldn't because of the space available at UB, so it put up different ones Tuesday for variation.  

It's the comparison to genocide that upset many students. Students who were "triggered" by the images contacted UB Wellness Education Services and the Student-Wide Judiciary on Monday, according to Hinckley. She felt the display was inappropriate to be outside the Union, and while she supports freedom of speech, she said she doesn't support "the complete use of propaganda to forward that belief."

Andzel and UB Students for Life aimed to "put a picture to the word abortion."

"The reason why we brought the other genocides throughout history is to show two things: a continuum of oppression by those in power to suppress and oppress the voiceless - victims," Andzel said. "I want to make that clear. What do they all have in common? They have victims that are voiceless. And we should stand up for all human rights. Now there are many differences and I understand that, and I hear the voices of those who may be offended. But all we are trying to do is to show the continuum of history of oppression of those without a voice."

Tom Tiberi, the director of Student Life, said UB Students for Life followed every appropriate procedure to reserve the spot outside of the Union. Tiberi said Student Life, which allows recognized organizations to reserve areas in the Union, also spoke with University at Albany, one of many schools that previously showcased this display. UB knew what to expect and took the appropriate precautions, according to Tiberi.

"As a state institution, we support the right of free speech, which is a part of this," Tiberi said. "When we allow an event to come on campus, we are looking at what is available as far as space goes. We would look at if it is a structure to make sure it's safe, but we do not look at the message. That is where you would infringe on the right to free speech."

Tiberi said what is good about a college campus is that it can be a platform of positive discussion back and forth. "It's our hope that it stays positive," Tiberi said Tuesday before the protests ended.

No additional arrests were made on Tuesday. By 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the amount of abortion rights advocates overpowered the anti-abortion protestors. Chanting and students' aggression continued to build under the cloudy sky's persistent rain.  

"Whose vagina?" an abortion rights activist called out. "My vagina!" the crowd responded. "Whose choice?" -  "My choice!"

The abortion rights activists mainly stayed separated from the display on Monday. They stood facing the display but at a distance of about 20 feet. Tuesday, the lines of separation deteriorated and protestors positioned themselves to block the images on display, even holding up a sheet with umbrellas and sticks in an attempt to hide the images.

When the display was taken down at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the crowd applauded and sang, "Na na na na... Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye."

Alana Barricks, the vice president of the College Republicans and a junior political science major, felt both protests were counterproductive, something she said the College Republicans and College Democrats agree on.

"The people who are out there are all extremists," Barricks said. "They are basically yelling at each other, and they are the people who will never have their opinions change on the issue ... We are not saying which side is right or wrong. We are just saying none of this is doing any good - it's all negative."

Andzel said he invited the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform to campus partially because of the abortion debate taking place in Knox 20 at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. Andzel said he expects about 300 people to attend the debate.

He took the events of Monday and Tuesday as "a positive" because "we talked about what abortion looks like and what abortion is."

The presentation will fuel the debates, Andzel said.

"We are going to be in for a battle of the titans," he added. "Here are two significantly different ideologies clashing head to head."

Tucciarone and Hinckley never want the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform to have a presence at UB again. Tucciarone said he wants to collect letters from students who felt attacked and give them to Tiberi and Dennis Black, vice president for Student Affairs.

Tucciarone said the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform was "a hate organization terrorizing preaching fear tactics. By any definition that is a terrorist group. It was terrorism and that's not appropriate."

To the people who opposed him, Andzel said, "God bless them for standing up for what they believe in because I do, too."

Now the billboards are down and students have cleared from the front of the Union - likely rearing to pick their debate back up on Thursday night.


Additional reporting by Asst. News Editor Sam Fernando



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